(not quite a) CS-80…

…but pretty close, unless you don’t let the phase synchronized oscillators spoil your fun. However, my trusty old Yamaha Electone D-85 has been vacuum cleaned and its rotating speaker system oiled. A few other parts had to be replaced as well, but it’s quite nice now.

A few cosmetic touches need to be done – and polish the outer parts. As you can tell from the picture, it’s been a while since the last dust-off. Next in the agenda: customize the whole organ, insert quite a few potentiometers and have it retrofitted with MIDI. It would be nice to be able to program new arpeggios and rhythms as well, but enough is enough. It’s a shame, though, that these things don’t exist in large numbers anymore. I’d gladly get myself an E-series organ, and E-75, preferably. The only thing missing is space for that thing.

I’ve done some serious sampling on my D-85 and one day in the future I’ll put the whole library up for downloading. There’s plenty to do, looping etc., but it’s slowly taking shape. Upper Keyboard and all the related Orchestra, Custom Voices and Special Presets are all recorded 48 kHz/24 bit, with and without noise (cleaned and unprocessed). With Ensemble/Celeste and dry. It’s not perfect, but it’s actually damn convincing.

There’s still a lot to do, the solo keyboard, for instance, requires heck a lot of attention due to its nuances, controls and everything. Sampling is, after all, comparable to taking Polaroids and only as accurate as it is allowed to be: the credibility of the end result depends totally on the size and amount of the imaginary polaroid snapshots. The more, the merrier. 🙂

Knobtwiddling at the local bakery.

It’s hard to maintain your Thursday morning grumpiness if one encounters such a sight at the local bakery. Delicious! How on earth they can still sell those and not get punished by local authorities is beyond my comprehension. 😀

Hear ye, hear ye! Unlawful carnal knowledge!

Buy Korg M1 Le (and get a gratis Nanokey!)

Don’t get me wrong – I do like analog synthesis and heavy-duty digital algorithms, yes, but I’ve always had a soft warm spot for Korg M1, and even though I’ve had my fair share of them (a keyboard version for gigging which was torn apart during the 800+ gigs, then an M1rEx in a rack), there’s a certain furry quality to its sound which I find hard to resist.

I already thought I’d gotten over it. I mean, I already have Korg’s Lecagy Collection and even though the Polysixes and MS-20s and Mono/Polys are not worth of praising in a loud voice, the digital reproductions of their digital keyboards are actually quite good – better than the originals. Then came last week. I visited a local store and a guy working there managed to sell me a Nanokey by whispering “wanna buy an M1 for 49 euros?” – does a bear poop in a forest? Pope still has a hat? To be honest, I didn’t think a second. Its sawtooth wave and other single cycle waves are so bad they’re actually beyond critisism. The best sharp, snappy, piercing sawtooth arpeggios I’d ever done came out of an M1. Oh yes, there will be a demo later, but believe me, the mellow two oscillator pads with Symphonic Ensemble on at about 50% are instantly sleep inducing and VERY relaxing with longer attacks and noisy “reverbs”. Sort of Analog Synthesis á la Frankenstein. Not quite there, but if you’re squinting, it’s actually rather nice and the raw resolution of the waves and D/A converters sort of melts in the current. 🙂

“What the hell”, I thought. “I could use M1 Le for fun, at home. It’s cheap and all.” Little did I know: it’s been three days now and I’ve already found the Nanokey very handy. Most likely the best home keyboard I’ve got: able to transpose, to send Midi CC and note data, velocity sensitive (sort of) – and no shit: pitch bend as well. Ableton Live cries for Nano products. So does Melodyne (it’s sometimes quite handy to play notes in). Speaking of Logic, I don’t know, really – but perhaps Nanokontrol would be great?

Of course, as one might imagine, the velocity sensitivity is more on the sketchy side and the push button pitch bends don’t really deliver the overwhelming inner urges the way they should be, but it’s still better than about anything else in the shop. For notation and score editing it could be a good shot, sitting neatly on the desk next to your laptop or keyboard. For myself – being an EWQLSO user – I found it very convenient to do keyswitching with a separate keyboard. And for 1/128th-aficionados and prog-wankers the octave switches are the shit: just play a jordanrudess (i.e.: “an incredibly unimportant pattern to songwriting, yet tough enough physically to tame even the hardest and who cares if it doesn’t do the track any good – it’s still the fastest finger job in the world”) and press the octave up/down switches… whoah. Multiple colored leds above the switches do the light show: green means +/-1, orange +/-2, red +/-3 and blinking red is a warning: you’re way too far away from human frequencies. Seriously. Really. Ok, it means “+/-4 octaves”.

After a longer session with just the Nanokey and my laptop, I had an awakening: the “keys” are wide enough to produce a sense of a “real keyboard”. I needed no adjusting or mental rehearsals like I needed with KLC MS-20 Controller and its tiny keys. This is apparently due to the shape of the Nano Key: one doesn’t (have to) associate and compare it with “proper” controller keyboards. If it’s tiny and flat (only a wee bit larger than Casiotone VL-1, yet about half as thick), it’s something else. 🙂

Nanokey can also send Control Commands, and a separate editor program (downloadable from Korg’s web page) can handle all editing rather neatly. No quirks and crashes. You can even define a momentary/toggle parameter – and disable all keys not needed in your setup, plus define both the “On” value – and the “Off” value as well. Handy. There can be different keys assigned to, say, Control 14, and all these assignment values can naturally differ from each other. Another plus: keyboard mode and CC mode can be assigned to different MIDI channels. And that darned velocity sensitivity can be switched off, thankfully, although the more I play with Nanokey, the less the sensitivity bothers. What the hell, people have always adjusted easily to current conditions.

The price/fun ratio is about as high as can be. You could, if necessary, replace “fun” with quality as well. Or benefit. Korg has another winner here, and at 49 euros it’s hard to beat.

Other Nano products: Nanokontrol (59 euros, a tiny mixer controller) and Nanopad (59 euros, a handy drum pad with a gratis EZDrummer Lite). If I were you, I’d buy three Nanokontrols (and create a larger mixer) or Two Nanokeys (one for each hand). Just save some money for an active USB hub, you might need one sooner or later.

From MIDI to Automation (with Love)

I must have been one of the many trying to figure out how to turn midi events (such as note-ons or control data) into plugin fader movements – or region automation. It’s actually easier than though at first, and can be done in a few different ways. I’m definitely not sure whether this is the fastest and simplest way (Logic being such a black hole of customising), but it’s damn effective.

First, record a few bars of random notes, one at a time (1/8ths, whatever), just keep within the C1-C6 limits.

Second, prepare a few Transform sets. The first one is meant to convert the note-ons of a 5-octave keyboard into control data (or fader data, just replace the resulting Control selection with Fader, in the lower section). Since the note-ons include also note-offs, they need to be erased from the resulting control data. Of course, it’s not mandatory to use note-ons, one could just as easily twiddle some knobs (sorry) or throw faders – or wiggle the joystick until it perishes. What I’d like to emphasize is to clean up all unwanted data by quantizing or removing all unnecessary note-ons to produce clean stream of controls. Note that this Transform Set doesn’t produce zeros, it scales the bottom C1 of the 5-octave keyboard to 1 and highest C6 to 127 and everything else in between them.

The resulting data is tidied up by another Transform Set. With this, all zeros caused by note-offs are deleted – just remember to press “Select” first, then “Operate”, or if you’re certain and confident enough, press “Select and Operate”, but be warned: my Logic Pro 8.0.2 doesn’t always work correctly. Sometimes it just decides to delete everything in the event list. A bug, perhaps? What you’ll have in the Event List are only the control data events, between 1 and 127, which you’re about to use as such, or convert into something more comfortable. You could, however, combine this and the following into one Transform Set.

Create another Transform Set and use it to convert freshly-created Control data to Fader data. If you already have plugins in any of the insert slots, you’ll probably see some parameters in the Length/Info field of an Event List. Note: on the Audio Tracks, insert slot #1 is on a MIDI Channel 2, slot #2 is Channel 3 and so forth – with Instrument Tracks, the first effect insert slot is MIDI Channel 3, slot #2 is MIDI Channel 4, etc. ad nauseam.

Next, activate a plugin on an insert slot of an Audio Track (or Instrument). Say, you’re trying to create a “random phaser”: insert MicroPhaser. If everything’s gone well, you should have a) Audio or Instrument Track with a few bars of “Fader” data AND MicroPhaser in the first insert slot of that particular track. Double click on the Fader data region, it should open in the Event List on the right hand side of the Logic Pro’s main view. If not – well… click on the region, make sure you’ve got the preferences right (Preferences – Global – Editing – Double clicking a MIDI region opens Event List) and try again. Now there should be a list of Fader data.

Select all and set the “Ch” accordingly: on an Audio Track, insert slot #1, use MIDI Channel 2, on an Instrument Track, insert slot #1, use MIDI Channel 3. Click on the “Val” column and roll your mouse. You should see the parameter list – sometimes the plugin control numbers are found in different places, with MicroPhaser, its Intensity control was Channel 3, control Num 15. If you have put an audio region onto your track, you’ll hear some random phasing going on if you hit Play. Yes, Audio Tracks can play back Midi Regions containing Fader data!

Word of warning here, though: Some plugin parameters understand restricted values, for instance, Echo plugin’s Time can be selected from 1 to 11 only, though sending in Value 127 doesn’t crash Logic… at least immediately. Saving often is recommended when experimenting and I can’t emphasize enough it’s about time Apple developers create an Auto-Save for Logic. It’s about men in Mars and we still struggle without Auto-Save! What is this, Sysmä or Oregon? Also, some plugins tend to cause clicks when changing the parameters if there’s something running thru them. Of course, glitch fans go crazy as soon as they try any of these tricks on Delay plugins. Just be careful with Delay Designer’s parameters: it was the only one causing VERY much hassle, although nothing was permanently gone, as long as your project is properly saved.

Happy Automating!

Noise… eh, space design?

I’m quite convinced that at least 80% of Logic users are using Space Designer as a preset-only plugin, just because of the sheer amount of the presets. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad with that, it’s just so overwhelmingly cool tool to be overlooked. It’s quite ok to do Impulse Responses with a specific Apple-provided tool placed in the Utilities folder on your hard drive, but Space Designer can take just about any sample and use that sample to process your tracks.

For instance, we could use this ES-2 filtered and flangered stereo noise: es2_noise and turn ep_mello_dry into something like ep_mello_fx, even though the difference is quite subtle at modest listening levels, try putting your headphones on. Nice, isn’t it? Only one instance of Space Designer, and even my old 2 x 2.7 GHz G5 didn’t show much load. If you’re daring enough and use resonance or flangers carelessly, you might want to insert a compressor before the Space Designer, to lower the resulting frequency peaks a bit. And the fun doesn’t have to end here. Put the noise file on an audio track and cut and slice it to your heart’s content and turn it into something like es2_gated_noise.

Load that as an IR and the previous ep_mello_dry turns into a pulsing ep_mello_fx_gated. Now that is something I might need. A reverb that’s not a reverb nor it’s a delay.

Link: ES2_noise.zip (load it into your Space Designer as an IR).

Spread and duck the delay

Dance music – and all its subgenres – require heavy imaging and wide-spread delays, all sorts of ambiences and reverb washes, and usually the stereo image can get a bit too crowded with every delay being totally in sync, up to the point where delay taps start disappearing. Sometimes a mono delay would be just fine and enough for a certain track. Though simple, it’s still very effective if you use a few tricks to give it some depth or width (but not too much, keep Logic’s Direction Mixer handy).

Just start with a sound and its delay on a send (in this case, Bus 4): delay1. It’s what you were after, feedback fading just before the next line etc, but something’s missing: it has no depth and changing the motif causes dissonance, although it’s not too severe. However, no matter how pleasant it may sound, it definitely should be altered, just a bit.

Enter Sample Delay. Instanciate a Sample Delay after the send’s Tape Delay. Move the other channel away from the other by just, say 240-530 samples and remember to check the mono compatibility by pressing “sum” or “mono” on your listening device or monitor switch. It would be sad to lose a few notes by phase cancellation. Now that delay is a bit more lively, yet still relatively modest and doesn’t bounce all over the place like Stereo Delay would. Demo: delay2. It’s still a bit dissonant from the bar 3 onwards, but we’ll take care of that a little bit later.

That “little bit later” meaning “now”. Add Compressor after Tape Delay and Sample Delay. I prefer the ClassA or Optical settings due to their behaviour and like to punch the signal with its own send connected to Compressor’s side chain (i.e. if send 4 (Bus 4) is going into delay-compressor, set compressor’s side chain to Bus 4 as well). This way it’s easy to avoid “overlapping” motives and dissonant arpeggios with a self-automated ducking delay. Demo: delay3. The level of the send is intact, but the send ducks everytime there’s something going on in the appropriate bus (Bus 4 in this case). Logic’s busses and sidechaining are t3h suck! 🙂 Just play with the attack/release controls and let the signal duck for about 6 dB, depending on your taste. If you happen to prefer dirt and grittiness, put your Compressor’s output distortion (click that triangle) into use. “Soft” is pretty much everything you will ever need.

To play more with the idea, replace the Sample Delay with a Stereo Spreader. This way, your delay pans depending on its frequency content. I think you want to slide the Lower Freq. and Upper Freq. controls closer to the necessary frequencies – I mean, why bother with something under 100 Hz if there’s not one bleep. Demo: delay4. You could, of course, use any modulation effect as well, my favorites being Ensemble (with two voices and full random modulation), AVerb and Ringshifter. The latter is exceptionally effective with its envelope follower: delay6. I used quite modest settings here, so that only the first repeat of Tape Delay is effected, after which Ringshifter’s envelope follower slows the movement down. Actually, I’m quite keen on frequency shifters. I’ve got a Bode-style freq shifter in my analog modular and I constantly use a few patches I’ve made for Nord G2X and Kyma, both of which utilise both compressors and frequency shifters. There’s just that extra sizzling, moving something you cannot describe any better.

The last trick is to use an AVerb, probably the most underestimated and undervalued plugin ever made. Using that in a send/insert chain with “unprofessional” settings – as I was once told by an older engineer – just smears the delay taps beautifully. I don’t, however, suggest anyone use that with percussion loops, the attacks are gone. I used to like to insert that into a vocal send, after any delay – I’m a fan of tape delays (both modeled and real), and that smearing effect is actually quite nice. If you add some “flutter” to Tape Delay and pump its out distortion to +20dB, raise the HPF and lower significantly the LPF, remember to insert a self-ducking Compressor to that particular send, crank the levels and – yep, you got the idea. Demo: delay5.

One thing: never let the signal spread too wide, it’s no use to use these tricks if everything is wide left and right. Most of the mix-in-a-box tracks I’ve heard lately suffer from incredibly wide pans, like people had only three positions in their virtual “mixers”: L, C and R. Use that Direction Mixer, dammit.

Summary: the order of the send’s inserts.

Logic Pro 8 files (put into ~/Library/Application Support/Logic/Channel Strip Settings/Bus): download here (Ringshifter delay send and AVerb delay send).

Drum replacement (sort of)

I just recently saw a movie of Depeche Mode working in a studio, getting strange drum sounds with a speaker attached to the drum sticks placed onto a floor tom with just about every nickel and dime on the drum head as well. Nice job, reminds me of my youth and the years being an adventurous engineer. It was quite common back then to plug a cable into 808’s snare or kick output and do similar tricks with speakers placed onto drumheads, and then remiking them.

It can be done without a terrible mess, just with Logic Pro and several samples – if you ever need to. Just put your kick and snare, for example, on different tracks. Demo: loop, then place Channel EQ in the first insert, put a Space Designer in the second – do this for both snare and kick. Then open the Space Designer and click on the right side of the IR Sample text. A menu pops up. On the “snare” track, load your favorite snare sample as an IR, then repeat the procedure on the kick track’s Space Designer. You’ll probably have to adjust the EQ of the raw sounds before getting appropriate effect on the convolution, but once in place, you’ll be able to do quite fancy tricks with just replacing the IRs used in the Space Designers. And who says they have to be track inserts? You could use rhythmic loops in the sends with some heavier processing as well. Demo: just_kick_thru_loop. This could be done in the MainStage as well, if you’re adventurous enough and willing to risk your credibility playing “live loops”, with a metronome clicking at a deafening volume.

With some noodling, your dry loop can be turned into something else with automation. Demo: loop_fx “Oh wow”, I hear you say. 😀

Seriously, you’re probably disappointed by now, but isn’t it wonderful to have a convolution fx processor in your computer? It’s anxiously waiting for abusing and mistreating. If Apple manages to create a polyphonic convolution player with dynamic tracking, we’d have a baby Neuron inside Logic. Now think about THAT.